When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi

84%

34 Critic Reviews

The power of this book lies in its eloquent insistence that we are all confronting our mortality every day, whether we know it or not.
-Guardian

Synopsis

#1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • For readers of Atul Gawande, Andrew Solomon, and Anne Lamott, this inspiring, exquisitely observed memoir finds hope and beauty in the face of insurmountable odds as an idealistic young neurosurgeon attempts to answer the question What makes a life worth living?

NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY 
THE WASHINGTON POST • THE NEW YORK TIMES • NPR

BOOKS FOR A BETTER LIFE AWARD FINALIST

At the age of thirty-six, on the verge of completing a decade’s worth of training as a neurosurgeon, Paul Kalanithi was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer. One day he was a doctor treating the dying, and the next he was a patient struggling to live. And just like that, the future he and his wife had imagined evaporated. When Breath Becomes Air chronicles Kalanithi’s transformation from a naïve medical student “possessed,” as he wrote, “by the question of what, given that all organisms die, makes a virtuous and meaningful life” into a neurosurgeon at Stanford working in the brain, the most critical place for human identity, and finally into a patient and new father confronting his own mortality.

What makes life worth living in the face of death? What do you do when the future, no longer a ladder toward your goals in life, flattens out into a perpetual present? What does it mean to have a child, to nurture a new life as another fades away? These are some of the questions Kalanithi wrestles with in this profoundly moving, exquisitely observed memoir.

Paul Kalanithi died in March 2015, while working on this book, yet his words live on as a guide and a gift to us all. “I began to realize that coming face to face with my own mortality, in a sense, had changed nothing and everything,” he wrote. “Seven words from Samuel Beckett began to repeat in my head: ‘I can’t go on. I’ll go on.’” When Breath Becomes Air is an unforgettable, life-affirming reflection on the challenge of facing death and on the relationship between doctor and patient, from a brilliant writer who became both.

Praise for When Breath Becomes Air

“I guarantee that finishing this book and then forgetting about it is simply not an option. . . . Part of this book’s tremendous impact comes from the obvious fact that its author was such a brilliant polymath. And part comes from the way he conveys what happened to him—passionately working and striving, deferring gratification, waiting to live, learning to die—so well.”—Janet Maslin, The New York Times

“An emotional investment well worth making: a moving and thoughtful memoir of family, medicine and literature. It is, despite its grim undertone, accidentally inspiring.”—The Washington Post

“Possesses the gravity and wisdom of an ancient Greek tragedy . . . [Kalanithi] delivers his chronicle in austere, beautiful prose. The book brims with insightful reflections on mortality that are especially poignant coming from a trained physician familiar with what lies ahead.”—The Boston Globe

“Devastating and spectacular . . . [Kalanithi] is so likeable, so relatable, and so humble, that you become immersed in his world and forget where it’s all heading.”—USA Today

“It’s [Kalanithi’s] unsentimental approach that makes When Breath Becomes Air so original—and so devastating. . . . Its only fault is that the book, like his life, ends much too early.”—Entertainment Weekly

“Split my head open with its beauty.”—Cheryl Strayed
 

About Paul Kalanithi

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PAUL KALANITHI was a neurosurgeon and writer. He graduated from Stanford with a B.A. and M.A. in English literature and a B.A. in human biology. He earned an M.Phil in the history and philosophy of science and medicine from Cambridge and graduated cum laude from the Yale School of Medicine, where he was inducted into the Alpha Omega Alpha national medical honor society. He returned to Stanford to complete his residency training in neurological surgery and a postdoctoral fellowship in neuroscience, and received the American Academy of Neurological Surgery’s highest award for resident research. He died in March 2015. He is survived by his family, including his wife Lucy, and their daughter Elizabeth Acadia.

Author Hometown: Kingman, AZ
 
Published January 12, 2016 by Random House. 258 pages
Genres: Biographies & Memoirs, Political & Social Sciences, Professional & Technical, Health, Fitness & Dieting, Self Help, Parenting & Relationships, Law & Philosophy. Non-fiction
Bestseller Status:
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Peak Rank on Jun 12 2016
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Critic reviews for When Breath Becomes Air
All: 34 | Positive: 34 | Negative: 0

Kirkus

Excellent
on Sep 30 2015

A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular clarity.

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Publishers Weekly

Good
on Feb 08 2016

This deeply moving memoir reveals how much can be achieved through service and gratitude when a life is courageously and resiliently lived.

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NY Times

Excellent
Reviewed by Janet Maslin on Jan 06 2016

To paraphrase Abraham Verghese’s introduction, to read this book is to feel that Dr. Kalanithi still lives, with enormous power to influence the lives of others even though he is gone.

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Guardian

Above average
Reviewed by Alice O'Keeffe on Feb 03 2016

The power of this book lies in its eloquent insistence that we are all confronting our mortality every day, whether we know it or not.

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Guardian

Good
Reviewed by Henry Marsh on Jan 31 2016

He was clearly a deeply thoughtful and compassionate man, and his death is a great loss to medicine, but at least he has left this remarkable book behind.

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Blog Critics

Good
Reviewed by Helen Gallagher on Mar 12 2016

As readers, we are drawn in to the options and decisions Paul and his family are faced with, and are perhaps calmed by the lucid thinking about life, death, and the enormous loss of a person… his decision to look death in the eye, with steadfast integrity and grace.

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Financial Times

Good
Reviewed by Lucy Kellaway on Feb 05 2016

When Breath Becomes Air tells us what means to live a good life, by giving us a glimpse into an exceptional one.

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Star Tribune

Good
Reviewed by MEGANNE FABREGA on Jan 16 2016

As anyone who has worn a paper robe can attest, the roles of doctor and patient are clearly defined. What Kalanithi does in "When Breath Becomes Air" is interweave these two roles into one narrative.

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Book Reporter

Good
Reviewed by Jana Siciliano on Feb 11 2016

The publisher Random House can barely keep up with the demand for this book, and there is a reason. It’s not a Lifetime TV movie version of young love and death destroying it. It’s an affirmation of what the small time we are all granted on this earth meant to one man...

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Globe and Mail

Good
Reviewed by Sandra Martin on Jan 15 2016

When Breath Becomes Air is Kalanithi’s first and last book. As readers, we have been deprived of the chance to add his name to the ranks of doctor writers...

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The Economist

Good
on Feb 06 2016

“When Breath Becomes Air” is a deeper exploration of the themes he raised, less a memoir than a reflection on life and purpose. It is an unusual little book, written by an unusual man.

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Entertainment Weekly

Good
Reviewed by Melissa Maerz on Jan 07 2016

When Breath Becomes Air is an elegant attempt to capture that struggle. Its only fault is that the book, like his life, ends much too early.

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The Independent

Good
Reviewed by LOUISE JURY on Feb 04 2016

This book goes a long way to achieving what Kalanithi wanted to achieve – helping people understand death and face their mortality. He emerges as a fine man who faced his own with fortitude and integrity.

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Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Good
Reviewed by Eileen Weiner on Jan 31 2016

“When Breath Becomes Air” (Random House, $25) is a remarkable memoir and meditation on living and dying.

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Open Letters Monthly

Good
Reviewed by Rohan Maitzen on Jul 07 2016

Kalanithi writes with wonderful, tactile specificity about his life. The many anecdotes of surgery, in particular, are equal parts inspiring and terrifying to someone who has never had that kind of awesome responsibility, or that level of life-giving skill. It’s very beautiful, too, to read about the decision he and his wife make to have a child...

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USA Today

Good
Reviewed by Matt McCarthy on Jan 10 2016

Although you know how this one ends, you still can't believe it. That's because the author -- a nonsmoker whose cancer was the result of a genetic mutation -- is so likeable, so relatable, and so humble...

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20Something Reads

Good
on Jun 14 2016

WHEN BREATH BECOMES AIR is an unforgettable, life-affirming reflection on the challenge of facing death and on the relationship between doctor and patient, from a brilliant writer who became both.

Read Full Review of When Breath Becomes Air

20Something Reads

Good
Reviewed by Jana Siciliano on Mar 02 2016

The publisher Random House can barely keep up with the demand for this book, and there is a reason. It’s not a Lifetime TV movie version of young love and death destroying it. It’s an affirmation of what the small time we are all granted on this earth meant to one man...

Read Full Review of When Breath Becomes Air

Express

Excellent
Reviewed by MERNIE GILMORE on Feb 17 2016

Kalanithi writes without a trace of self-pity...This is a remarkable book by a man who was driven by his passion for his life, his loves and his career. His death is undoubtedly a tragedy but in writing this memoir he has guaranteed that his voice and the important story it tells will resonate for years to come.

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Chicago Tribune

Good
Reviewed by Beth Kephart on Mar 01 2016

Kalanithi periscopes the dwindling days — distills them into memories and desires, frustrations and hurt, love. He fights, then faces his own vanishing.

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Post and Courier

Good
Reviewed by Janet Maslin on Jan 24 2016

...part comes from the way he conveys what happened to him — passionately working and striving, deferring gratification, waiting to live, learning to die — so well.

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Post and Courier

Good
Reviewed by Janet Maslin on Jan 24 2016

Part of this book’s tremendous impact comes from the obvious fact that its author was such a brilliant polymath. And part comes from the way he conveys what happened to him...

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Irish Times

Good
Reviewed by Paul D'Alton on Jan 21 2017

...Kalanithi’s very distinct voice, embedded with wisdom, bravery and eloquence sets him apart. In When Breath Becomes Air he has bravely unpacked his own bag and in so going has made a very significant contribution to helping us learn how to live and die.

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Mail Online

Good
Reviewed by LAURA FREEMAN on Feb 18 2016

Kalanithi's intellect and precision sometimes give a sense of detachment to his writing, while the warmth and tenderness of Lucy's epilogue gives us Kalanithi as a husband, father and son.

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London Evening Standard

Good
Reviewed by Katie Law on Jan 29 2016

This account of his life — and dying — has already had rave reviews in the US and deserves the same here. Cancer memoirs — John Diamond’s, Ruth Picardie’s, Tom Lubbock’s and Oliver Sacks’s being among the better ones — may be a dime a dozen but they’re only as good as their authors, and Kalanithi proves to be exceptional.

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The Hindu

Good
Reviewed by JACOB KOSHY on Mar 05 2016

Most works about people overcoming suffering and pain derive their vital force from the protagonists emerging victorious...From page 1, we know that nothing of the sort will happen to Kalanithi, and yet it’s a book that carries hope simply because it is expressed succinctly sans pathos and bathos and doesn’t treat death as an adversary.

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The Republic

Good
Reviewed by Rasha Madkour on Jan 26 2016

His book is faint consolation. Doctors ought to learn from his compassion for patients; all of us ought to learn from his passion for life.

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The Star Phoenix

Good
Reviewed by TRACY SHERLOCK on Mar 10 2016

The book is beautifully written — clearly Kalanithi had talents in more than one area...Readers won’t come away from this book dry eyed, but those tears will be worth it.

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http://skrishnasbooks.com

Good
Reviewed by Swapna Krishna on Feb 16 2016

Sometimes, you need to be moved utterly and completely, and When Breath Becomes Air is perfect to turn to in those moments.

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Financial Times

Good
Reviewed by Lucy Kellaway on Feb 05 2016

When he was diagnosed, he emailed a friend: “The good news is I’ve already outlived two Brontës, Keats and Stephen Crane. The bad news is that I haven’t written anything.” In the last 22 months of his life, Paul Kalanithi put that right. When Breath Becomes Air tells us what means to live a good life, by giving us a glimpse into an exceptional one.

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Readings

Good
Reviewed by Mark Rubbo on Mar 11 2016

It is his great skill as a writer that raises this book from just a tragic tale to one that has lessons and meaning for us all.

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https://bookmunch.wordpress.com

Good
on Jan 11 2017

It’s quite an achievement. Sombre, of course, and spiritual (but spiritual in a way that is we think unlikely to put off anyone who doesn’t go in for all that mumbo jumbo), but most importantly lucid and wise and affecting. We’d recommend.

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Book Chase

Good
Reviewed by Sam Sattler on Feb 26 2016

Paul Kalanithi’s When Breath Becomes Air is part autobiography and part memoir, but most of all it is a talented doctor’s farewell to a world that is surely less than it would have been were he still a part of it.

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The Curious Wavefunction

Good
Reviewed by Wavefunction on Dec 02 2015

Read this book; it's devastating and heartbreaking, inspiring and edifying. Most importantly, it's real.

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good article,so much I HAVE LEARNED FFROM HERE ,THANKS

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